Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I've Been Reading

Nowadays it seems that most schools have some sort of required reading for their students during the summer. Which is a good thing, what with all the competing interests for their time and attention. I didn't need such assignments as a kid. I loved to read and besides, television only had 3 channels. All my summer afternoons of reading blend into one general memory of dappled light, drunk bees and being on a blanket under a tree with a book.

A lifetime of reading for pleasure has altered somewhat in recent years. I've grown undisciplined. I hear about books, make mental notes to a mental reading list but somehow the most I manage is going to bed with a book and falling asleep after reading maybe a page. Consequently, it takes me a year to get through one or two books, where I used to manage at least one a month.

(I sorta kinda blame blogs for this dip in my reading cycle, despite the fact that most of the blogs I read qualify as literature).

I promised myself to read more this year and have used these summer months to really commit. The available time is generally first thing in the morning. We've had a mostly sunny summer thus far and the cool, dewy early morning is the best part of the day. I sit in one of the decrepit Adirondack chairs with my coffee, dew on my feet and bumbles already busy in the lavender, and take an hour or so for a dip into a book.

The summer began with 2 absolutely delightful books: We've Always Had Paris...and Provence by Patricia and Walter Wells and My Life in France by Julia Child. The obvious delightfulness owes to both being about France and food. What I didn't entirely expect was the pleasure of the author's voices. The Wells' book was an interesting collaboration: his voice is that of a journalist, hers is like a girlfriend chatting over cocktails. And Child, well, her actual voice is so iconic - I heard her as I read her words. In both cases I also received the surprise of inspiration. Both Pat and Julia hit on their passion and subsequent life calling later in life. It made me hopeful, especially as I consider how to keep going with the writing thing even after I sell my soul to The Man.

Then I read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a historical novel about building cathedrals. This is a best selling book by a best selling author and when I finished it my primary thought was "Really?"

The story was compelling enough; I finished the book, after all. There was one character I liked very much. But what kept me engaged was the expectation of more...a more that never really came. The prose was not devastating, there were no "golden lines" or deep insights. The characters were, in the main, uncomplicated...fundamentally good or fundamentally evil and not much in between. It wasn't horrible, it just wasn't much of a stunner. In fact, at the end I thought, for the first time in a very long time, "Hell, I could write better fiction than this".

Then I re-read Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited. I have no intention of seeing the new movie. This story was filmed in a 1980 miniseries that is a quintessential and faithful rendering of the tale. Plus, it has Jeremy irons and Anthony Andrews. A 2 hour reinterpretation (which, from what I've read, strays far from the original text) strikes me - even with Emma Thompson - as a gigantic waste of celluloid. But I digress. I'm not going to see the movie because I loved the miniseries. I revisited Brideshead because it's something I have to do every year. This is one of my Top Ten All Time Favorite Books.

It also reminded me why I don't write fiction. Brideshead is, to me, a perfect book: deceptively simple in some ways but rich in description and characters. It is a book about grace and redemption and even though I know it practically by heart, it always offers up something completely new.

Yesterday, in 2 sittings, I polished off I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron. I've seen all her movies (I think) but never read a one of her books. Hello? The Neighbor loaned it to me. She was a little "meh" about it, liked it well enough but... I, on the other hand, loved it. Ephron is funny and honest, she loves to cook. She is, perhaps, a little more gloomy about getting older than I am but she mostly addresses it in such an amusing way that it didn't make me feel bad. Of course, by the time I finished the book I had also pretty much decided I'd never write again myself because there was no point - an insecurity I'm prone to in the face of good writing but I usually get over it.

In fact, something that is already helping me get over it is a little project that requires me to read blogs. You'd think that would be the sweetest deal ever and it would be if I were reading your blogs. But I'm not. (I am, of course, but not for the project). Anyway, point is, I suspect you have no idea how much crap is out there. Seriously. Crappity crap crap. How did I manage to find all of you - with your gift for story telling, your humor, your insight? I was honestly under the impression that having found you I'd better stop while I was ahead. It wasn't just that I didn't want my blogroll to get out of control but really, I just couldn't afford to add any more "must reads" to my life. Turns out, all y'all are the creme de la creme; those "must reads" are far and few between. Oh, I'm finding them and some may even be revisited for my own pleasure later but lordy. You should seriously give yourself a pat on the back right now for adding worthwhile content to the blogosphere. Trust, you're doing a public service.

Now I'm going to get some water and take a break. And read.

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Blogger Buck opined...

I didn't even know about the Julia Child book!
I just ordered it. Thank you!

I adore that woman. . .

August 05, 2008 2:56 PM  
Blogger Buck opined...

Oh, and I got it on half.com for $1.13

Hello, I'm cheap.

August 05, 2008 2:57 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

You. will. love. it.

August 05, 2008 2:59 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

And bully for you. Whatcha pay for shipping?

August 05, 2008 3:00 PM  
Blogger Doralong opined...

The Julia book is one of my all time favorites! An annual re-read to be sure.

Reading blogs for cash? Umm, sounds good on paper (or ether) but in reality probably a drag unless our more or less mutual blogroll was involved of course. Or you could just read yourself naturally.

August 05, 2008 4:55 PM  
Blogger Bad Alice opined...

I have just been thinking about getting a new copy of Brideshead Revisited if I can find one without the new movie poster on the cover. The trailer made me foam at the mouth. One man's desire. One man's ambition. One woman's control. Ack. What a mess.

August 05, 2008 5:01 PM  
Blogger Sling opined...

I must confess,that in the last several years I've substituted documentaries for reading 'mainstream' printed matter..I just want someone to tell me something new.
You have inspired me to set aside some time to pick up an actual book.
Maybe re-read 'The Word by Irving Wallace...But see?..I've been away from books for so long,that I don't have a real clue.
I shy away from so-called bestsellers because I figure the media hype is,many times,the source of their popularity.
Kind of like 'Oprah's book club selection for this month!!!'....is more self-help crap that anyone from my generation already knew,and essentially boils down to,'Shut up and cowboy up!'.

Maybe I'll just stick with the classics,and read my buddies blogs to stay plugged in to what's really goin' on.
I just don't know.
Now,..about this sweet gig you got reading blogs..

Hey!..This is the longest comment I've posted in like,..ever!

I'll shut up now.

August 05, 2008 5:43 PM  
Blogger Mom opined...

I absolutely loved Pillars Of The Earth and his follow up epic, World Without End. Made me glad that i don't live in the harsh world of the middle ages.
My next big trip I'm hoping to go to France, so the two books about France are now on my to read list.
Blog reading is fun and takes up some reading time.

August 05, 2008 6:56 PM  
Blogger sageweb opined...

I use to read a ton, since blogging I have slowed down. I am currently reading, (well I am cheating I downloaded it on my IPOD) Eat, Pray, Love. It is soooo good. I cant put my IPOD down. When you talked about the authors voices, I thought that is weird, I can hear my authors voice too...literally.

August 05, 2008 6:57 PM  
Blogger Citymouse opined...

Funny thing, I try to read and I have to LOVE the book. I do the same-- there are like 15 books I want to read. I'll get back at it!

August 05, 2008 7:53 PM  
Blogger Kimberly Ann opined...

You have given me some great library and Netflix suggestions (I have always meant to watch the Brideshead mini but never got around to it).

I can recommend Founding Mothers by Cokie Roberts and 1776 by David McCullough for your mental list if you are looking for some good historical reading. I'm working on Cokie's book now and all I can say is "Wow, old Ben Franklin was a cad. Seriously."

And keep writing. Please.

August 05, 2008 8:14 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Cuz, I suspect it will become one of mine as well. I can't believe it took me this long to get around to it.

As for the other...seriously.

Bad Alice, I KNEW you'd understand. (My copy has Jeremy and Anthony AND Aloyisus on the cover.

Sling, that comment was more powerful than half the blogs I've been reading (outside our circle, of course). But the classics...well, there's a reason we call them classics.

Mom...no doubt I'll read the sequel as well. Can you guess who my favorite character was?

One caution about the France books...they'll make you want to live there.

"I can't put my iPod down"...oh, Sage, that is SUCH a 21st century thing to say. laffity laff

Mouse, I have a hard time plowing through a book that doesn't grab me right away. Especially now that TV has more than 3 channels. (I kid. Sorta).

KA, you will LOVE it. And oh, the food. Meanwhile, your selections go onto my list.

And thanks. I'll try.

August 05, 2008 9:15 PM  
Blogger Willym opined...

Like Buck I didn't know about the Julia Child; I'm going to have to make that - along with the obligatory jar of Kraft Peanut Butter - a requirement for the next visitor to bring.

We didn't have a television - as I've often mentioned my father wouldn't let one in the house - so books and the radio were it - summer and all the other seasons to.

I have one annual reread and that's William Zinnzer's ON WRITING WELL - its a must for anyone who writes for work or enjoyment.

And every year or two I reread E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia books - all six of them, 1119 glorious pages in the old Perennial Library (how appropriate) Library edition. I've been trying to get my hands on some of his other books but most of them are out of print.

August 05, 2008 11:49 PM  
Blogger Buck opined...

half.com charges something like 412 dollars for shipping.

Actually, it's $3.49 for paperbacks, $3.99 for hardcovers.

August 06, 2008 7:26 AM  
Blogger Molly opined...

I'm not sure if you are a poetry girl, Auntie Raine, but then again you are a Davis woman and as such you are at least required to 'entertain' the notion of liking poetry. Emma recommended this book to Nana (I know, she has far surpassed us ALL) amd I recently found it on the shelves of our house (not sure how that one happened) but it is delicious and light and not at all dripping in sugary words of fluff (I'm starting to really hate fluffy books). I am sure you already know of him, since you are such a culturally relevant woman, but by the slight chance you don't: Billy Collins. The Art if Drowning. My favorite one is 'Directions'.

August 06, 2008 8:41 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Willym, oh! Loves me some Mapp and Lucia. Next summer except me to be sporting exactly Lucia's level of Italian. Please just don't invite any contessas to dinner.

Tee, Buck. So you scored Julia for about $6. Sweet.

Molls, it's going onto my list. And you should try Pablo Neruda. Love him.

August 06, 2008 10:50 AM  
Blogger Willym opined...

Then you and I can do Lucia and Georgino-mio perfectly. Can I ask a few Queens?

August 06, 2008 12:19 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Willym, but of course cara mio. I will help you dust your bibelots before they arrive.

August 06, 2008 12:22 PM  

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